When you first picked up the script for this film, what about Hitchcock interested you from the outset?
I’ve always particularly loved his later Hollywood films. When I read this, it did seem to shed some light on the relationship with Tippi – and it seemed to be part of his films. Unlike most biopics, which just tell you the life story, this is actually providing fascinating insights into this relationship that started out so warmly and then spiraled out of control.
How much were you aware of his obsessive relationship with Tippi before starting work on the film?
Just on the fringes, I’d heard that there had been trouble between him and Tippi on set, but I didn’t really know what that meant. It was only recently that Tippi started telling people about this. The first thing I did was check it out because it seemed quite extraordinary, and also it just seemed to define such an interesting moment in his career – ‘Marnie’ was his last great film.
Did it affect your feelings about him as one of history’s great directors?
Obviously, one has a mixture of feelings about it. Because, it’s a disappointment that he could behave like that, and puzzling, but at the same time, it felt like an interesting revelation because there seemed to be some of that in his later films, in the ways he explored these relationships. One thing I was concerned about is that we didn’t portray Hitchcock just as a monster, because that obviously wasn’t true, and wouldn’t be interesting anyway. I hope in the film that we get a sense of his vulnerability, where he’s coming from and why he’s tortured by this. I think it explores an obsession that wasn’t necessarily sexual. It was connected in some way with his need for beauty and the way he saw women as almost goddesses. He wanted to be part of that, and he was so self-conscious of his appearance, and he was tortured by that. There’s always going to be an element of mystery to Hitchcock; it’s very hard to explain it rationally. But I think that’s where he was coming from.
How did you draw on Hitchcock’s style to give the film its look?
We tried to film it in a Hitchcockian way. We used the same lighting style and diffused filters. When we shot Hitchcock shooting on set, we shot those scenes on 35mm, and we graded it to give it a more contrast-y, saturated, Technicolor look than is currently fashionable. I didn’t want to overdo that too strongly; I just wanted to create that air of Hitchcock and the glamour of working in studios at that time. Then, there are obviously moments in the film where one sees little homages to Hitchcock’s other films, from ‘Psycho’ to ‘Vertigo.’ They’re not there, hopefully, just as eye-candy, but to really express some of the conflicts the characters are going through. We also tried to understand his special-effects system that he used – which was pretty innovative at the time – with this yellow screen. We weren’t copying so much as trying to enter that world and bring the audience into it.
How difficult was it to shoot the scenes that represent Hitchcock’s production of ‘The Birds’?
We didn’t have lots of days like Hitchcock had. And bird regulations these days are very strict, so we had to make sure those birds had their rest! And then we had exactly the same problems with the bird sequence as I’m sure Hitchcock did: How do you make it appear like the birds are attacking the actress? It takes a lot of time and patience, and it’s very frustrating and tricky. But fortunately we got enough of it, and Sienna was absolutely fantastic about going for take after take until we could get it.